Thursday, November 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 13 (Eudora Welty)

The Wide Net and Other Stories
Welty, Eudora
The Wide Net and Other Stories

I am not sure where I acquired this. Something tells me it was either at East Village Books of 7th Street Books. Those were my two main used book haunts when I lived in the East Village. I definitely bought it used. I paid $3.50. Above the price on the inner flap is written, "Current 7.95."

The question I keep asking myself is: Why did I buy this book? In general, I don't read short stories. I don't have an abiding interest in southern writers. What gives? I don't know. I don't recall anything about the stories other than that many take place in and around Natchez, Mississippi and the Natchez Trace. I remember puzzling about that name. First of all, I did not know anything about Natchez, the Natchez Indians, the Natchez language, or the Natchez Trace. I didn't know where the "trace" was or what it was used for.

The Natchez Trace, also known as the "Old Natchez Trace", is a historical path that extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. It was created and used for centuries by Native Americans, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today, the trail is commemorated by the 444-mile (715 km) Natchez Trace Parkway, which follows the approximate path of the Trace, as well as the related Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Parts of the original trail are still accessible and some segments have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

As I try to remember the experience of reading these stories, the thing that stands out the most is a kind of knot or brick wall in my mind represented by the phrase "Natchez Trace." Things like this usually spur me on to learn something. I puzzle over the phrase, the sound of the phrase, the meaning of the individual words in the phrase, and the more I do so the more opaque they become. Finally I start to look up each term until I feel like I have created something solid that my imagination can hold onto.

I have a recollection of looking up this information at the time I read the stories and still being puzzled by the word, "trace." I had never heard it used before to describe a trail or a path. I remember nothing about the stories in this book, but I remember my coming to learn about the Natchez Trace quite vividly.

from The Wide Net and Other Stories

from First Love

Whatever happened, it happend in extraordinary times, in a season of dreams, and in Natchez it wa the bitterest winter of them all. The north wind struck one January night in 1807 with an instant penetration, as if it followed the settlers down by their own course, screaming down the river bends to drive them further still. Afterwards there was the strange drugged fall of snow. When the sun rose the air broke into a thousand prisms as close as the flash-and-turn of gulls' wings. For a long time afterwards it was so lear that in the evening the little companion-star to Sirius could be seen plainly in the heavens by travelers who took their way by night, and Venus shone in the daytime in all its course through the new transparency of the sky.

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